Preparing Future Generations © Pexels/Mart Productions
At a time when the world faces seemingly intractable problems, innovation is often heralded as the solution. Innovation helps us adapt to change, fosters growth and prosperity, and improves lives. It’s a focus of attention and investment for governments and companies seeking to get a competitive advantage. Let’s Talk Science, an educational innovator for 30 years, is now taking steps to ensure that innovation is part of the mindset of students across Canada.
What is innovation? There are dozens of definitions, noted Let’s Talk Science President Dr. Bonnie Schmidt. Ultimately, it’s about discovering and solving problems creatively, responsibly, and sustainably—innovation results in new products, technologies, services and processes. “Innovation isn’t just about creativity, although that’s part of it,” she said. “It’s about creating something useful that adds value for others.”
Many people believe that innovation is the purview of a select few. Not so, according to Schmidt. “We believe that everyone has the potential to be an innovator. Innovation starts with a mindset, which is something we can develop with the right types of experiences, coaching, and support.”
Innovation involves an iterative process that requires creativity, collaboration and communication skills. It fosters determination and resilience.
While we often think about innovation as the one big invention that transforms life, Schmidt noted that, more often, it is the incremental steps along the way. For example, it’s not just the invention of the cell phone but the small but significant improvements that happen from one new phone model to another.
Let’s Talk Science itself was a major innovation when it launched 30 years ago. Beginning as an educational outreach initiative in one university, it has grown into a charitable organization working with more than 55 universities, colleges and institutes, providing programming for children and youth and supporting educators to bring STEM alive in and outside school.
And the organization has never stood still. “We’ve done things differently and introduced new programs year over year, as we learned and evolved,” explained Schmidt. “Both incremental and transformative innovation have been at the heart of our organization all along.”
That includes evolving programs like Tomatosphere, in which students investigate the effects of outer space on seed germination, and developing Clothing4Climate, where they learn about the environmental science behind clothing and then take action to make change. The organization’s talent for innovation has attracted strong support from innovative companies like Spin Master, Amgen Canada, Rio Tinto and many others, as well as the Government of Canada.
Schmidt shared that while innovation has always been part of Let’s Talk Science programs—after all, science and innovation are often intertwined—schools are moving away from an emphasis on learning content and focusing more on helping students develop critical competencies and foundational skills that support learning and decision-making.
At the same time, youth are deeply concerned about their futures in a rapidly changing world, one where the impacts of climate change and AI are prominent. Acquiring an innovative mindset prepares them to adapt and grow, empowered to lead and navigate change.
Governments and industry also see innovation as the way to succeed in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Although a leader in fundamental science and technology research, Canada is sometimes considered lagging when it comes to taking innovations from the ‘lab to the marketplace.’
“At a moment when innovation is very important and knowing that it involves a set of learnable skills and approaches, the time is right for us to do even more in this area,” shared Schmidt.
What will the renewed focus on innovation look like at Let’s Talk Science? Program Manager Alexandra Kasper said existing programs from Early Years to Grade 12 will become more explicit about innovation skills and the development of an innovative mindset. For example, programming will use meta-cognition techniques to draw attention to each innovation process step. Special innovation-themed sessions and hands-on projects will also become part of existing programs. In addition, a new program will launch this fall for Grades 7 to 10 students, which will lead to a national Innovation Showcase.
Let’s Talk Science participants will also have the opportunity to learn about careers from role models who have built careers and companies based on innovation. Educators will be supported to learn the pedagogy of innovation and how to design learning environments that foster an innovation mindset.
The goal is clear: to increase students’ confidence and help them develop as innovators. And that, in turn, benefits all of us. Said Schmidt, “By focusing on innovation, Let’s Talk Science is preparing the next generation of innovators, problem solvers, and engaged members of society.”
Let’s Talk Science is committed to preparing youth in Canada for future careers and citizenship demands in a rapidly changing world.